In Katy Perry’s video for her latest single from the aptly titled album, Teenage Dream, she matches her poignant, if easily accessible, lyrics to “Firework” with images of “outcasts” of all sorts translating an inner fire to an outward spark.
And it could not come at a better time.
In the wake of sensational coverage of teen bullying, and in fairness of the sensational and tragic events that catalyzed this coverage, Perry promotes a message that many teens seem in need of hearing: “Do you know that there's still a chance for you, Cause there's a spark in you?” (See the complete lyrics.) While she does, in one instance, show bullying taking place, most of the vignettes in this video show the self-consciousness that live within these teens versus aggression from outside forces. By showing their torment, she reminds us that most teens don’t need a perpetrator harassing them to make them feel like they’re “drifting through the wind.”
Katy confronts the topic of many recent headlines – the quiet isolation and fear of living as a gay teen. And she has publicly acknowledged that this song is a dedication of sorts to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project. But she also equally taps into real but slightly less “trendy” depictions of teen self-doubt…A girl too insecure to wear a bathing suit in front of other girls and boys her age…A young girl with a bald head, her hair lost to chemotherapy, feeling weak and frail…A boy whose passion and talent for magic makes him feel on the fringe.
In line with what we’ve discussed in previous posts, Larry Magid of cnet.com affirms that despite statistics that suggest that bullying is widespread, “nice” is actually the norm. In showing the real numbers of teens who engage in cyberbullying, or who report having been cyberbullied (which is probably the more authentic and reliable measure to monitor), which are quite low, Magid says:
The reason I point out these statistics is not to deny we have a problem -- whatever the statistics, cyberbullying can have horrendous consequences – but to remind parents and teens that the norm is to be civil, not mean.
Both of these teen idols seem to recognize that to win the support of today’s teens, the people and brands who influence them need to start by supporting them first.
And Katy’s approach seems to be in line with Magid’s plea: positive programs and messages over punishment of bullies. She leaves teens with a call to action that sounds like it could come from the star who most experts would agree to be the most sought after teen icon in the world right now: Lady Gaga. Katy sings, “You just gotta ignite the light/ and let it shine/just own the night/like the Fourth of July.”